South Korean president takes heart from Trump's birthday wishes to North Korea's Kim

In this photo taken on June 12, 2018, US President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella resort in Singapore.
In this photo taken on June 12, 2018, US President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella resort in Singapore.PHOTO: AP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korean President Moon Jae-in hailed US President Donald Trump for sending birthday wishes to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, describing it as "a great idea" to improve chances of restarting denuclearisation talks.

"Some were concerned about a new round of provocations just in time for Chairman Kim's birthday," Mr Moon told reporters at an annual news conference on Tuesday (Jan 14).

"Instead, President Trump sent him birthday wishes to stress his willingness to talk. It was a great idea."

Saturday's acknowledgement from the North Korean authorities that they had received the birthday greetings would be one of the most concrete confirmations of their leader's birth date, though they did not mention the exact date.

Mr Kim's birthday is believed to be Jan 8, though his secretive regime has never confirmed the date.

The US government lists Mr Kim's birth year as 1984, making him 36 years old this year.

On Friday, a South Korean official said Mr Trump had asked the South Koreans to pass on birthday greetings to North Korea.

Over the weekend, however, North Korea released a statement saying it had already directly received a "personal letter" from Mr Trump and called South Korea "presumptuous" for trying to meddle in US-North Korea relations.

The statement also ridiculed Seoul for appearing not to know that the North Koreans have their own channel of communication with Washington.

 
 
 
 

Despite the prickly response, Mr Moon repeatedly cited the birthday messages as evidence that not all is lost.

"North Korea made clear that the door to dialogue is not closed by saying they will come back to talks only when their demands are accepted," Mr Moon said of that North Korean response.

"The US-North Korea talks are not active right now, but I would say both leaders - President Trump and Chairman Kim - continue to trust one another and continue with their efforts."

Later, when asked whether Mr Trump's decision to order the killing of Iran's Qassem Soleimani could complicate efforts to get Mr Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, Mr Moon once again cited the birthday greetings as a good sign that underscores the US President's commitment to negotiations.

Last year, North Korea said that it was losing patience and warned it could take some unspecified action if the United States did not soften its negotiating stance by the new year.

The deadline passed, however, with no immediate provocation from North Korea, though Mr Kim did say the world would soon witness a new strategic weapon.